A coup d’état (AHD: [ko͞o"dā tä]), often simply called a coup, is the sudden overthrow of a government by a part of the state establishment — usually the military — to replace the branch of the stricken government, either with another civil government or with a military government.
The coup d’état succeeds if its opponents fail to thwart the usurpers, allowing them to consolidate their positions, obtain the surrender of the overthrown government or acquiescence of the populace and the surviving armed forces, and thus claim legitimacy. Coups d’état typically use the power of the existing government for the takeover. As Edward Luttwak remarks in Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook: A coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder. In this sense, the use of either military or another organized force is not the defining feature of a coup d'état.
Since the unsuccessful coups d’état of Wolfgang Kapp in 1920 (the Kapp Putsch), and of Adolf Hitler in 1923 (the Beer Hall Putsch), the Swiss German word "Putsch" (originally coined with the Züriputsch of 1839) is often used also, even in French (such as the putsch of 8 November 1942 and the putsch of April 21, 1961, both in Algiers) and Soviet Union (August Putsch in 1991), while the direct German translation is Staatsstreich.
Linguistically, coup d’état is French for “a stroke of state” (coup [blow], d’ [of] état, [state]). Analogously, the term also is casually used to mean gaining advantage on a rival, either by a group or a person, e.g. an intelligence coup, boardroom coup.
Tactically, a coup d’état usually involves control by an active portion of the country's military, while neutralizing the remainder of the armed services' possible counteraction. The acting group either captures or expels the political and military leaders, seizes physical control of the most important government offices, means of communication, and the physical infrastructure, such as key streets and electric power plants.
According to Professor Thomas Childers of the University of Pennsylvania, the lack of an English word to denote a sudden, unconstitutional change of government derives from England's political institutions. Although the histories of France and Germany are coloured with such political actions, England's history is not. The last coup d’état in England was the Glorious Revolution in 1688, in which a parliamentarian group headed by William of Orange overthrew James II, the last Roman Catholic monarch, to establish a modern parliamentary democracy. In England, this is a rare political occurrence, hence there has been no need to coin a descriptive word.
In recent years, the military coup d’état has declined worldwide as a means of changing government. The usual military intervention in civil government, regarded as a coup d'état, uses the threat of military force to depose a politically vulnerable or an unpopular leader. In contrast to a traditional coup d'état, the military do not directly assume power, but install a militarily-acceptable civilian leader. The advantage is the appearance of legitimacy; classic examples are the collapse of the French Fourth Republic, and the bloodless coup d'état effected on 3 August 2005, in Mauritania while the president was in Saudi Arabia.
There have been examples of the potential for mass street protests to persuade the military to withdraw its support of unpopular leaders, sometimes leading the opposition to take power in a coup d’état fashion. In such situations, such as in Serbia (2000), Argentina (2001), the Philippines (1986 and 2001), Bolivia (2003), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004-2005), Lebanon, Ecuador (2005), and Bolivia (2005), popular uprisings forced the incumbent president or leader to resign so that a new leader might assume power. This often results in economic stability and political calm, in which an unknown and uncontroversial interim leader can govern until proper elections are held. Generally, these changes of government are not described as coups d’état, because they are not orchestrated by a small group, but result from popular action. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 is such a change of government, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini, because it sprang from popular opposition to the rule of the last Shah of Iran.
A bloodless coup d’état is when the threat of violence is sufficient to depose the incumbent government with no fighting, and there are no subsequent executions of the deposed faction. However, a "bloodless coup d’état" is not always truly non-violent. Napoleon's 18 Brumaire coup d’état is considered an exemplar "bloodless coup", but during the coup, legislators were forcibly ejected from their meeting place by soldiers. In 1889, Brazil became a republic via a bloodless coup. In 1999, Pervez Musharraf assumed power in Pakistan via a bloodless coup, and, in 2006, Sonthi Boonyaratglin assumed power in Thailand as the leader of the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy.
The term self-coup applies when the incumbent government — aided and abetted by the military — assumes extraordinary powers not allowed by law. The historical example is President, and later French Emperor, Louis Napoléon Bonaparte. A modern example is Alberto Fujimori in Peru, who, though elected, in 1992 assumed control of legislative and the judicial branches of government, installing himself as an authoritarian ruler. The assumption of "emergency powers" by King Gyanendra of Nepal was a self-coup.
Besides Luttwak's non-military coup d’état, Samuel P. Huntington identifies three classes of coup d’état:
According to Huntington, most leaders of a coup d’état act under the concept of right orders: they believe that the best resolution of the country's problems is merely to issue correct orders. This view of government underestimates the difficulty of implementing government policy, and the degree of political resistance to certain correct orders. It presupposes that everyone who matters in the country shares a single, common interest, and that the only question is how to pursue that single, common interest.
|Name||Country||In power since|
|Qaboos of Oman||Oman||1970|
|Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo||Equatorial Guinea||1979|
|Blaise Compaoré||Burkina Faso||1987|
|Zine El Abidine Ben Ali||Tunisia||1987|
|Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir||Sudan||1989|
|Yahya Jammeh*||The Gambia||1994|
|Hamad bin Khalifa||Qatar||1995|
|François Bozizé*||Central African Republic||2003|
|Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama||Fiji||2006|
|Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz||Mauritania||2008|
*Both Jammeh and Bozizé were subsequently confirmed in office by apparently free and fair elections. The election confirming Jammeh was marked by repression of the free press and the opposition. An opposition leader described the outcome as a "sham".